If you have lung cancer, it is likely you have experienced anxiety. Anxiety is among the most problematic issues of those living with the disease. On Monday, we held the third in our Coping Webinar Series, focusing on anxiety before, during and after lung cancer treatment.
We were joined by Boris Krivitsky, DO and Amy Jamerson, MSW, LCSW from Carolinas HealthCare System, Levine Cancer Institute, as well as six-year lung cancer survivor, Kurt Hammock, to discuss recognizing and managing anxiety during your cancer journey.
What is Anxiety?
A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about a future event or something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety is a normal feeling associated with coping and adjusting to a new reality. It often appears in the form of jitteriness, sleeplessness, clammy hands and avoidance of crowds and leaving home.
- Recognize It: If you are asking the question “Do I have anxiety?” then you probably do. The first step to getting help is acknowledging that you might need help.
- Talk About It: You are not alone; everyone who is faced with a cancer diagnosis experiences anxiety. Telling someone how your feel can make you feel better right away and open the door to help.
- Transition Periods: Anxiety often arises during “transition” periods in the cancer journey, including diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Be aware of anxiety during this time as it tends to raise questions about unknown elements of the future.
- Visualization: We cannot control our thoughts, however we can control the value we put on them. Visualization exercises help up gain control of our thoughts. See the “Resources” section for a helpful visualization exercise.
- Adjust Your Expectations: Learn to expect anxiety. It is like an unwanted houseguest; you cannot get rid of it, so figure out how to manage it and minimize time spent with it.
- Be Present: When anxiety arises, your brain is in the future but your body is in the present. Be in the moment and enjoy the time you have. Stay busy with activities that bring you pleasure and consider helping others, it is one of the most fulfilling things you can do.
- Simple Daily Actions to Help Reduce Anxiety:
- Good Sleep: Helps healing and recovery; increase sleep by doing more during the day
- Stay Active: Get up, walk around, set goals; being active will help you sleep better, too
- Eat Well: Eat enough good quality calories throughout the day
- Quit Smoking: Instead use breathing techniques to reduce anxiety
- Medication should be a last resort to treat anxiety because it tends to have side effects and can result in dependence and addiction. That being said, if you are experiencing severe anxiety, medication is a helpful tool to get you back on track.
- Anxiety is often accompanied by depression. Below are two types of medications prescribed to help. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
- Antidepressants (e.g. SSRI, Prozac; SNRI, Effexor)
- Benzodiazepines (E.g. Ativan, Xanax)
- Visualization Exercise: Imagine your mind is like a hallway with many doors on either side. Your thoughts, like worry about a scan or an upcoming treatment, open the doors. If we focus on those thoughts too much, it is like entering that room and we cannot get out. You always have the ability to come back into the hallway. Ask yourself “What are you thinking about? Anxiety or the moment?”
- Online Tools:
For questions about anxiety and other side effects during your lung cancer journey, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-298-2436.
Lung Cancer Alliance’s Coping Webinar Series is a program to help you manage the side effects and symptoms of lung cancer and its treatment. Click here to learn more.